After one night in Pondy, 3 nights in a thatched hut on stilts, overlooking the ocean. This is Auroville Beach.
It’s an interesting version of paradise marred with apartheid. We’re staying in a locked, guarded compound on the edge of the beach. Don’t imagine barbwire and watch towers though: the hedge is azaleas in full bloom, the lock a number bike lock and the guard dog a great daft pup who digs himself little nests in the damp sand under a hut and sleeps there belly up, legs dangling in the air….
But still, the measures are necessary for our enjoyment of paradise itself.
The beach is a working beach, with fishing going on every day. There is a section for swimming, full of white folks – more to the point, white women in bikinis. And a life guard.
It’s ok to swim elsewhere if you don’t mind some kind of interference. Offering one’s skin to the sun in that way anywhere else than in the restricted area attracts men, alone or in groups, within minutes. They sit a few meters back and to the side, and watch, and watch…. Kids, and the more daring of the men, will address you: Which country? my name? married?
They sometimes wander inside the guarded area, but never too close. Still, it’s nice not to have to swim in a sarong.
Women on the other hand, try to ignore you.
But if you wear a sari, everything changes: they will instantly talk to you, starting by commenting on the sari, then the questions: “How much (did the sari cost)? Gold (chain round my neck)? Married? Children? And sometimes, give me your necklace, or indignant comments about those women who wear things down to there and up here – all in Tamil, but the mimicking leaves no room for false interpretation.
Auroville itself is 8 km inland, off the main road. There is no bus from the “junction” with the main road, the junction being where the dirt track starts. You have to hitch hike by bike. I’m now travelling with Joy and another girl we met in Tiruvanamalai, Svenia, and again at the gate of our beach hut “guest house”, by chance.
The 3 of us get individual lifts within minutes, and here we are, Auroville Solar Kitchen. That’s where working Aurovillian get fed. I know nothing of Auroville, or Sri Aurobindo.
And we can’t get food at the kitchen, because there is no money in Auroville, and you have to stay there for a minumum of 7 days to benefit from Aurovillian services and guest account.
Fortunately Svenia knows someone here who invites us all for dinner on his account.
Later, we find the information centre, watch a video about the place, and see the Matrimandir from outside. It seems there are guests rules to get in, also.
And off to the main road again.
It took 4 lifts to get there, but all within less than a minute waiting.
One Western woman on a scooter who asked me which way to go (she was new), another on a Bullet, a local guy going back from work (I sat in amazon), telling me about his 6 month baby, but I think he meant his wife was 6 months pregnant, because he didn’t know the sex of the baby, and a school teacher who told me about the school in Auroville.
I was vaguely aprehensive to come to Auroville, thinking the people there would all be quite cliquey and unwelcoming, like in all these utopic places – the LP guide warns of how difficult it is to see anything, partly due to the spread-out geography of the place.
But I found that’s not the case. People are there to work, or on placement, and are quite happy to share what they know.
On the 3 day there, we went for a dance class in the healing centre. I think this gave me a good feel of the nature of what is going on here. A big experiment, where people create a kinder version of living and living together.
The spirulina farm was interesting. I was wearing my sari, and we got great treatment by the women there, and multiple photo opportunities….
After swim, sun and sand and coconut beach, back in Pondy now, where Joy and I are going to meet with EJ and Sophia.